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James 4:5-7 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:58 mins 6 secs

The Sin Nature: the enemy within; James 4:5-7a


James 4:5 NASB "Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: 'He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us'?" Notice that there is a quote in this verse, and it is not in upper case letters. There is also a quote in verse 6 and it is in upper case letters. The reason is that what appears to be a quote by its introduction "the Scripture speaks," is not found in any verse in any Old Testament version, in either the Hebrew Old Testament of the Septuagint. So nobody knows there that comes from and that creates a tremendous amount of confusion among Bible students. Verse 6 is clearly a quote from Proverbs 3:34.


Whenever you do Bible study two things are very important. The first is translation. Before we get to any application we have to make sure that we have the correct interpretation. Interpretation means: What did the original author intend to communicate? If we don't understand what the author intended to communicate and we misunderstand that, then our application is going to be way off target. So we have to know the author's original intent. But before we do that we have a slight problem because the Bible was not written in English, it was originally written in Koine Greek (New Testament). As a result of that we have to get into the original language to make sure we have a correct translation. Once we have a correct translation then we can approach the issue of interpretation. Interpretation asks the question: What did the author mean? Application answers the question: What does that mean to me? Too often we jump over to application first, and if we jump there before we have done translation and interpretation work we end up in pure subjectivity and whatever we are applying may have nothing at all to do with God's instructions to us.


So we have to look at a couple of things in context. First, the point of this question, Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose? In to confront the readers with the reality of their own subjective arrogance in either reinterpreting or ignoring what the Scripture says. That is the problem, they think the Scripture doesn't really mean what it says. If we broke this down into plain English James is saying, Do you really think the Scripture doesn't mean what it says? The word "thinking" here is DOKEO [dokew]. There are two words for thinking that are common in Greek DOKEO and PHRONEO [fronew]. PHRONEO has to do with objective thinking, doctrinal thinking; DOKEO has to do with subjective thinking. That means you are thinking in terms of your own experiences. By using the word DOKEO James is implying that they are being subjective. They are living in terms of antinomianism, they are abusing the grace of God and so are thinking that they can just do whatever they want to do without regard for God's commandments. To even suggest that the commandments of God in the New Testament are irrelevant is absurd. There is something like 80 or 90 different imperative verbs in this short five-chapter epistle, i.e. commands directed to the believer. James certainly wants to communicate that there are certain principles for the spiritual life and that the believer is supposed to live in accord with those principles. He cannot treat them and is not to treat them lightly or to think or rationalize his sin by just thinking that well, God has forgiven me, Christ died on the cross and has paid for my sins, so it really doesn't matter what I do, I can go ahead and do it. God is going to take care of that in divine discipline, and when you treat God's grace lightly. You might think you get away with it but you never do, the Supreme Court of heaven will always make sure that we are taken care of in divine discipline. James is waring these believers that he is writing to that they are living in carnality, in fact they are in reversionism, they are treating the grace of God lightly, and they need to recover. The real problem is that these believers have failed to renovate their thinking, they have failed to let their human viewpoint thinking that they brought with them into salvation be transformed by the renewing of their minds. 


James 4:6 NASB "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore {it} says, 'GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.'" It is important to notice that this verse begins with a "but" in the English. It is a conjunction of contrast, DE [de], and this is the first time there is a shift. So the first thing we need to notice is that from verses 1 down through verse 5 he is castigating the carnal believers in his letter. So that means that in verse 5 whatever he is saying is still part of correcting these carnal believers. He is still confronting them so their arrogance is still in operation. There is no passage like the quote in verse 5 in the Old Testament, so we do have a problem. Probably the best explanation is that he is going to quote Scripture and he starts off and says: "Don't you realize that the Scripture says." Then there is a parenthesis because he wants to remind them of a principle. Then he comes back and gives the quote in verse 6. He has been challenging them with their wrong behaviour and now he is going to give the solution starting in verse 6. The quote in v. 6 is clearly from Proverbs 3:34 which reads a little different in the English: "Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted." So one of the things we have to deal with is that quote is not a quote from the Hebrew Old Testament, it is a quote from the Septuagint [LXX]. But God then Holy Spirit still made sure that what the New Testament writers quoted, even though it might have differed from the Hebrew at some point, it still was an accurate reflection of truth; He preserved it in terms of inerrancy.


"He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us." We have to ask what the main verb is. It is EPIPOTHEO [e)pipoqew], the same word we have seen earlier and it has to do with lust, desire, a deep or strong desire for something, longing, recognizing that there is a lack in the life. It is a present active indicative. This means it is a continuous action, the subject performs the action, and it is in the mood of reality. But it is the third person singular—he, she or it. In Greek, if you want to say, He did something, then all you have to do is say EPIPOTHEI. You don't have to use the pronoun "he." The 3rd person singular is embedded in the meaning the verb. Sometimes the pronoun is there and that is for emphasis to make sure you get the point. Then it will also mention the subject. In this case, after identifying the verb, the next thing to do is ask what the subject is. In English you determine the subject by looking at its position in the sentence, usually right before the verb. In Greek you have to look for the word that is in the nominative case, and it can be anywhere in the sentence. The way the Greek structure is laid out the very next word after the verb has the definite article TA [ta] and then noun PNEUMA [pneuma], the word for breath, wind, spirit, Holy Spirit, human spirit. The troublesome thing here is that PNEUMA is a neuter gender verb. That means that the nominative case ends with the letter A and the accusative case also ends with the letter A. So when you look at TA PNEUMA it can either be the subject of the verb—"the Spirit desires"—or it can be the direct object of the verb—"He desires the Spirit." Now we have a problem, we have to figure out what is going to be the subject of the sentence. The next problem is that you have to decide what PNEUMA means. Are we talking about wind or breath? Are we talking about the Holy Spirit? Are we talking about the human spirit, a mindset, disposition, mental attitude, or what?


So now we have a lexical problem and a grammatical problem, and all that revolves around a theological problem. The NASB translates this "He jealously desires." So the translators are making a decision that the subject of the verb is going to be God, and PNEUMA there is not only the Holy Spirit but it is also going to be the object of the verb. The KJV states it completely differently: "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy." It takes "the spirit" here as the subject of the verb. The translators are saying that it is the spirit that dwells in us and it is not God that is performing the action. At the point of "lusteth to envy" it goes right over our heads and the thundering diction of the KJV loses all meaning for us. But the KJV translators were exactly correct in taking the TA PNEUMA here as the subject—"The spirit." It still needs to be defined what the meaning of PNEUMA is but it is the spirit that it is talking about. Why? Because if you take the interpretation "He [God] desires the Spirit" what you are saying is that this is saying God has placed the Holy Spirit in you and you are a carnal believer but God desires to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. There are a couple of problems. First of all, it is taking this sense of jealousy as a positive thing. The word that is translated "jealousy" is the Greek word PHTHONON [fqonon] and in the New Testament it always has a negative, sinful connotation. It never is applied to God anywhere. So if we are going to take it the way the NASB does we are going to have to take this jealous desire as a good thing and there is no basis for it anywhere in the Old or New Testament. So it is wrong. Secondly, it is making this a positive verse and the contrast doesn't hit us until verse 6, the "But," so that verse 5 must still be in the negative challenge, the corrective stage of the first five verses. It is not a good thing, it is a bad thing. So it doesn't fit the context the way the NASB translates it. So we take PNEUMA as the subject and we should translate this, "The spirit," and then the verb EPITHUMEO [e)piqumew] "deeply desires," and then we come to the phrase "envious lust," indicating its negative connotation" "The spirit greatly desires envious lust." That is still a little fuzzy so we will try to clarify this a little.


There is another phrase in here, the phrase HO KATOIKEO [o( katoikew]. HO is the relative pronoun, it should be translated "that." The verb is an aorist and it means to settle, to establish, to place, to put, to reside in, and it should be translated "the spirit that has resided in us is attracted to envious lusts." Now we have to decide what the author means. What he means when he says "the spirit that has resided in us," is he is not using this as a technical term for the human spirit of the Holy Spirit, he is talking about the mental attitude that is now controlling the recipients of the letter in their carnality, and can control any of us in our carnality. This mental attitude we would call the carnal mind, as Paul does in Romans chapter eight, and what James is saying is that when you get into carnality, you get into reversionism, the kind of mental attitude that takes over your soul moves in the direction of envious lusts. What James is doing when he gets ready to quote the Scripture, then scriptural solution to their problems, is that he takes the parenthesis out in verse 5 to remind them that they are being controlled by a carnal mental attitude that is promoting envious lusts which is the underlying cause of the division, the animosity and the hostility in the congregation.


Translation: "Do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: 'Remember, the spirit that has taken up residence in you [your mental attitude] is prone toward envious lust"?  James 4:6 NASB "But He gives a greater grace." See, he is going to come in and emphasize the solution. God gives a greater grace, greater than what? It starts of the comparative adjective MEIZON [meizwn], indicating something that is superior to or greater than something else. Greater than what? Greater than what it is contrasted to which is the carnality, the mental attitude sins, the destructiveness, the divisiveness, all of the problems and stress that is fragmenting the people and the congregation he is addressing. God's grace is greater than any problem you can ever face in life. Remember the human solution is no solution; God's solution is the only effective solution. That is what he is saying.


James 4:6 NASB "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore {it} says, 'GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.'" He quotes Proverbs 3:34 from the LXX. The word here for "opposed" is ANTITASSO [a)ntitassw], a compound word. TASSO has to do with putting someone in a particular position. The ANTI can mean against or in substitution. In compound words is tends to mean "against." It means to set opposite, to put then against someone, to range in battle against, and to set one's self against in a confrontational position. That was its meaning in classical Greek. The reason for emphasizing that is because when the LXX was translated somewhere between the second and third century BC, Koine was still developing in its infancy. So the meaning of ANTITASSO probably had more to do with classical Greek meaning than later Koine meaning. Even in the Koine it means to oppose someone, to be hostile toward someone, or to show hostility to someone. The portrayal in classical Greek where Homer used it to describe opposing combat forces indicates that God is making war against the arrogant. God sets Himself against the arrogant. If you are a child of God then God is going to set Himself against you in your arrogant carnality. The word translated "proud" is the Greek word HUPEREPHANOS [u(perhfanoj] and it is not the normal word for just pride, it is instead a technical word for arrogance. It is much stronger than simply pride.


"… but gives grace," and it is the Greek word DIDOMI [didomi]. Whenever we have this word, which means to give, we ought to think about grace. This is the verb for grace, that God gives freely out of His own character based on who He is and what Jesus Christ did on the cross. "… to the humble." And here we have the word TAPEINOS [tapeinoj] which is related to the adjective TAPEINPHROSUNE [tapeinofrosunh] which is the character quality that Jesus exhibits when He is not going to stay in heaven but is going to voluntarily restrict the independent use of Hs attributes, and even though he was God did not think that equality with God was something to be grasped, and He limited Himself and took on the form of a servant—Philippians 2 is the classic passage in illustrating the essence of true and genuine humility. So we see the importance of humility as the character quality that is going to characterize those who rule and reign with Jesus Christ. So what we have here is a topical sentence. The issue is that God is going to be against you if you are in carnality because you are operating under the arrogance skills, but He will provide grace if you humble yourself to God.


Humility begins with authority orientation. We have to remind ourselves that God is the one in charge of our lives and not us, and so the issue is what God says and not what we feel, what we think, or what we would like to do. Verses 7-10 are going to explain the principle given in the quote from Proverbs 3:34. There we are going to have 10 aorist active imperatives. An aorist imperative emphasizes a priority item, and it often conveys a sense of urgency. And, of course, when you are in carnality it is a matter of urgency for you to confess your sins and recover the filling of the Holy Spirit, fellowship with the Lord, and start moving forward. That is why he is expressing this urgency towards these carnal believers who have all these conflicts and quarrels and antagonisms. The first thing they have to do if they are going to move in the direction of humility is to submit to God.


James 4:7 NASB "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you: Here we have the word HUPOTASSO [u(potassw]—HUPO = under; TASSO = position under authority. The Scripture says a lot about submission, this verb is used several times. Romans 13:1 NASB "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." If you start violating the principle of authority orientation and start sitting in judgment on whether or not the authority ought to be obeyed you are putting yourself in the position of God, you are creating a trauma in your soul that will make it easy for you to violate any other authority, even when that authority is right. You are setting a soul precedent of disrespect and disobedience to authority, and this is why we always have to remember that we have to respect the position of authority even though the person may not be worthy of respect. 1 Corinthians 14:34 NASB "The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves [HUPOTASSO], just as the Law also says." 1 Corinthians 15:27 NASB "For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, "All things are put in subjection," it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him." Everything in creation will be under the authority of Jesus Christ after the second coming, and that is the principle. Ephesians 1:22 NASB "And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church." It is also used as slaves to masters in Titus 2:9 NASB "{Urge} bond slaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative."